Nepali Times
Diaspora in dilemma


Foreign Resident Nepalis (FoReN) see only dirt, dust, decay, decrepitude, demagogic democracy, garbage, and graft the moment they clear customs. Maybe they should continue to wallow in the wealth of their adopted west.

As some of our Nepali exiles living abroad in western nations begin to accumulate wealth, status, renown (and an exile's angst), they appear to be haunted by that old Nepali song, "Pharka he pharka Nepali, timilai daakchha Nepal." sung by Pushpa Nepali.

Whenever two or more diasporic Nepalis gather, the talk invariably, incessantly turns to the declining state of the home state. Should one return home under these circumstances? And the inevitable "Ke garne?" has double-meaning: one is the perennially pessimistic, fatalistic meaning that Nepalis associate with that lamentable phrase, but the other indicates the lack of job prospects: "Ke kaam garne?"

Nepalis live abroad voluntarily for several reasons, the main one being to make more money, of course. Income that presumably guarantees that much coveted higher "standard of living", an envied "lifestyle". Others are primarily concerned with expanding their knowledge, skills, and experiences, which they hope at some point to utilise back home. Then there are those rare birds-the types who once used to join the Foreign Legion or become deckhands on tramp steamers-who expect to lie when filling out the employment form. For reasons known only to themselves, their primary concern is to be left alone. They may not thrive financially, but appear to prefer that Joycean "exile, silence and cunning."

And yet, almost all of them are obsessed by the thought of home. And when not carrying out dialogues with fellow expatriates, they are captive audience of their own interior monologues that echo with the pros and cons of life at home.

But there is no such thing as free lunch, especially an expensive one. Thus the pursuit and pleasures of the high life produce their own stress, their "tensions". Even as the family man frets about the quality of education back home, he is forced to turn a blind eye to the increasing violence and discrimination his children may face at school, especially the urban public schools in the US. If his career does not advance as quickly as he had expected, all things being equal, he cannot but suspect that he is being held back because of the colour of his skin, aggravated perhaps by his insufficient grasp of the local language and social mores.

Then there is that chilling spectre of sex, drugs and rock \'n roll. I knew a Nepali father in America who sent his troubled teenage son back to Kathmandu because the teenager found music, drugs and girls a lot more fun than academics. He confessed that he was secretly relieved he had a son rather than a daughter because he felt he could handle his son's problems, but "if I had a daughter.," he appeared to shudder inwardly. A Nepali mother who had two daughters was equally traumatised by the possibility that her daughters might begin dating African-American boys. White boys, however, were okay. She admitted her racism but said she was unable to be "liberal" about it.

And then there is the Lady of the Castle. Educated, ambitious women quickly discover that when abroad, and in the absence of the dictates of saasu-sasura, et al, they are suddenly free to pursue their own version of "life, liberty and happiness" unless of course the Lord of the Castle says no. Alas, even today, for many educated, "broad-minded men" it is difficult to accept that their wives want to become professionals, and, (god forbid) may begin earning more than they do.

One of the dirty secrets suppressed during the \'go-go' success of Silicon Valley was the alarming incidents of wife abuse and domestic violence, especially among Asian immigrant communities. Even before the dot.coms nose-dived, the newly hired immigrant was often the first to be laid off. During boom times, he consoled himself with humorous clich?s such as "rags to riches to rags-and riches again." But if the rags clung on longer than expected, well. it was time for the abused members of the family to call the hotline or seek refuge in shelters for the abused.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, that incomparable diviner of human psyche, once wrote that human beings have three kinds of secrets: one that they reveal to others, another that they reveal only to themselves, and the most dreaded kind, which they dare not reveal even to their own selves. Exiles, too, harbour secret trapdoors and exits within themselves, some which they reveal to others, but others not even to themselves. One of these, nurtured silently in the deepest recess of one's clamorous consciousness, is used to console oneself during moments of doubt, if not melancholia.

This secret mantra, is that when the going gets tough, one can always go-back home! Usually after a long night of drinking, certain deep-seated secrets, if not sentimental clich?s, suddenly burst forth in swift, fragmented utterances, or dribble out slowly, like boiling, liquid forcing itself out from the cracks in the pot's cover, such as: "It is wonderful to live abroad when young, brother, but once you get old even your children will forget you. Then it is hell."

But to return home, does one have to wait until one is reduced to a doddering, blabbering old fool? Does one really waste one's talents when one returns home when one is in one's prime? Life will be uncomfortable back home, but if a return is inevitable, then it may be better to follow the advice of the French philosopher Sartre who stated that life begins on the other side of despair.

I would be the first to agree that certain types of exiles should not return. These are the ones who expect to live a totally western lifestyle in our faux-modern Kathmandu. Foreign Resident Nepalis (FoReN) on vacation are quick to point out the dirt, dust, decay, decrepitude, demagogic democracy, garbage, and graft, among other transparent evils that grip our nation, the moment they clear customs. Wealthy FoReNs who wish to invest and contribute to the nation's development (and their own) who expect not to grease palms or use \'source-force' as means to their end should continue to wallow in the wealth of their adopted west.

Nepotism and corruption has been part of humanity since the beginning of time and will not disappear anytime soon. And, please, do not return home for the sake of your children, especially if they are already teenagers, because you want them to "appreciate" their true culture and heritage. They won't thank you for it. And don't even think of arranging their marriage with a suitable boy/girl.

If you are a FoReN with a college degree with skills and talents, you'd be surprised at the number of jobs on offer back home. I have lived in Nepal for over two years now, and short of being a rocket scientist, there is plenty to do. Even if you spent your years abroad hacking hog carcasses and eviscerating chickens, they'd be after you as a technical advisor, since mechanical, hygienic slaughterhouses are being planned. So, really, you need not wait for death in western comfort. After all, "khaane mukh lai junga le chhek daina."

(Rajendra Khadka is the editor of Travellers' Tales Nepal published in San Francisco in 1997. He lives in Kathmandu.)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)